You’ve been thinking about adopting for a while now, but not quite sure you’re ready to jump in. The decision to adopt is one that shouldn’t be rushed as there are many things to consider. On the flip side, one shouldn’t reject the idea of adopting just because of fears or concerns. Instead, authentic discernment of all aspects of adoption should occur before signing on the dotted line.

Things to ask yourself before you adopt:

1)   Why are you adopting? This seems like an unusual question to consider, but it is encouraged for prospective adoptive parents to take a hard look at their motivations for adoption. While adoption is an incredible experience, it is not easy; thus, understanding your “why” is vital.

2)   Have you told anyone about your plan to adopt? Adoption doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Nearly everyone in your circle is affected by it. From friends, relatives, and employers, parenting kids whose life experience has been different can change some relationships. Telling those close to you about your plan to adopt is one of the many important steps in this process.

3)   What do your extended family members and friends think about it? After you tell others about your plan to adopt, what do you think their initial response will be? Most of us hope for and assume that our friends, family members, and employers will be thrilled about it. Yet, it may come as a surprise when your announcement is met with hesitation and even serious criticism by some people. From wondering why you would want to bring other children into your family, checking to make sure you’re not going to adopt kids from traumatic backgrounds, or questioning if you’ve really “tried hard enough” to have a biological child, there may be moments when you wonder if those closest to you will support your decision and, most importantly, the child you are going to adopt. Don’t be surprised or even dismayed by this, as most loved ones do come around to the idea. Just make sure you take the opportunity to accurately inform them about the positive impact that adoption has on many children around the world.

4)   Are you and your spouse/partner on the same page about adoption? It is not all that uncommon for one spouse to be more cautious about adoption than the other. While this can occur in any type of adoption, it can especially ring true with foster care adoption. Before you sign the application and begin the mountain of paperwork, have a heart-to-heart conversation about your decision. As you’re going through any classes, you might have to talk or do other activities related to topics about what to expect; continue having these conversations. Bringing children into your home can put strain on a marriage, so make sure you jumpstart your communication prior to welcoming your first child.

5)   How do your children (if applicable) feel about adding another child to the family through adoption? While a lot of childless families adopt, there are also many with children who grow their families via adoption. Whether it is through the foster care system, domestic, or international, adding a child into your home will have an impact on your children. There may be jealousy, confusion, or fear, as well as lots of moments of laughter and fun. Depending on your child’s age, the level of understanding will vary. Parents should be open and honest about it, as well as give children the space to express their emotions.

6)   What type of adoption are you interested in? (Domestic infant, international, or foster care.) Learn the differences between the types of adoption that are available. Domestic infant adoption typically applies to situations where a woman is pregnant and making a plan for adoption. This can occur through adoption agencies or through a family member (with legal assistance). International adoption occurs when prospective families go through adoption agencies working with other countries to match children available for adoption to waiting families. The international adoption process can be tedious, expensive, and consist of a long wait. It is important the agency you’re working with understands all federal and international laws/guidelines for adoption. Foster care adoption occurs when children are adopted out of the foster care system. Often, families foster the children prior to adopting them. A part of this is due to the federal law that requires states to work towards reunification with biological parents for fifteen out of twenty-two months. Most states also require the child to be placed in the home for a consecutive period of six months before the family is allowed to petition the court for adoption. Currently, there are children in the US foster care system available for adoption. Check with your state to find out what the requirements are for foster care and adoption.

7)   Are you ready to have your privacy invaded? “Oh,” you may be thinking. “Not this one.” It is a big thing to consider! Families who want to be approved for adoption undergo background checks, medical evaluations, personal and employer references, walkthroughs of their homes, and continual assessment of their abilities to parent children who are not born to them. This can feel very intrusive, as the social worker is poking into the childhood history, marriage stability, finances, and other factors of life we often don’t speak about publicly. One piece of advice about this: Just be honest. If you didn’t have the best childhood, talk about it. If you’ve made mistakes and poor choices, tell the truth. If your marriage has had moments of being rocky, make sure to include this in the conversations surrounding how your marriage is doing now. You should know that there are some felonies that disallow approval for adoption. You should also know that even without a criminal background history, assessing a family for adoption is taken very seriously and not all families who are interested are approved. Again, don’t try to hide anything. Openness goes a long way. And, let’s face it, most of us haven’t had the most squeaky-clean life, or one that is mistake-free.

8)   What kinds of resources are available in your community? Resources, resources, resources! When adopting kids, especially ones who come from hard places, leaning on others to provide services is a key to success. Your child may need physical, occupational, or speech therapy. He or she may be eligible for special education services, or may need to see a therapist. Knowing the availability of services and resources in your community helps you prepare for parenthood.

9)   Are you seeking out enough information about trauma-informed care? If you haven’t heard about a trauma-informed approach to parenting, then now is the time to start learning about it. Trauma-informed parenting consists of putting focus on any trauma the child has had, and applying that information to parenting. It involves the willingness to immerse oneself in the understanding of how trauma changes a child’s brain and changes the landscape of life for children. It is so important for prospective adoptive parents to understand that even newborns and infants can experience trauma—whether that is in the womb, a difficult delivery, or in the first few months of life. Abuse and neglect of children increases their ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences) score. The more ACEs a child has had, the higher the risk of developing social, emotional and physical challenges. Being trauma-informed does not mean that consequences are not to be applied to children for misbehavior. It means that logical consequences, teachable moments and discernment regarding the meaning behind a behavioral issue is vital to a child’s overall well-being. The exciting news about trauma-informed research is that it shows children can grow, heal, and be restored when being cared for by parents who understand the impact that trauma has.

10)  What age range, gender, race, and other factors are you interested in adopting? While it is not necessary to stick to an age range, gender, or other issues, they are important factors to consider. For some prospective adoptive parents, birth order is paramount. For others, birth order may not be too much of a concern. Take a look at the current make-up of your family. This will help to narrow the age of children you are willing or able to adopt. The same goes for gender. When it comes to race and other significant factors, it is strongly encouraged to consider the community you live in as well as the resources available to your child. Now, with all of that being said, there have been many families who were set on a certain age, gender, and race, but ended up adopting children outside of what they felt was their comfort zone. So, keep an open mind!

11)  Have you considered the concept that adoption is not about finding a child for your family, but about offering your family to a child? In other words, this isn’t about you… even though it feels that way. All children who have been adopted experience loss – even ones who were adopted as newborns. It is unrealistic for children to be grateful for being adopted (while there are some who have expressed gratitude, there are many adoptees who struggle with complex emotions about it). When it becomes solely about you, then the adoptee’s story and feelings are lost in the mix. Parenting, in general, is a sacrifice of self. This is even more exaggerated in adoptive parenting.

12)  What fears do you have, and are there ones that can be resolved? Take a look at your fears and determine if they are based on unrealistic expectations or falsehoods about adoption. The truth is that adoptive parenting can have lots of hits, misses, and curves around every corner, but often, the fears we come up with in our minds never come to fruition. Put your fears to rest!

13  How do you feel about openness in adoption? What does that look like to you? Research shows that openness in adoption is a key aspect to adoptees feeling trust for their adoptive parents. Read that sentence again. Openness doesn’t have to look like on-going visitation with biological family members, but it can. Openness doesn’t have to mean that you spend a part of everyday talking about adoption, but it can, especially if your child needs to. Openness in adoption is the willingness to put your child’s story ahead of your own. And the truth is, adopted kids have histories that do not include their adoptive parents. The more comfortable you are with that truth, the better you will be at handling your children’s questions and meeting their needs.

14  What will you do to keep the child connected to cultural or familial identity? This goes along with openness. The saying that “color doesn’t matter” is loving, of course, but it fails to speak to the saliency of cultural identity and history for children adopted into families who don’t look like them. Keeping your children connected to their racial, cultural, and even familial heritage speaks volumes to your children. It tells them that you “see” all of who they are, and there is value in it.

15  Are you willing to accept advice or direction from adoption professionals, experience interacting with adoptive parents, and others? Adoptive parents seem to bond over shared losses, funny moments, and challenges they face when raising their children. Seek out other adoptive parents or support groups where you can be genuine in your struggles. Counselors and adoption professionals may not understand what life is like in your home, but their experiences working with other adoptive families can help you understand what’s going on in your family system.

16  On that same note, are you going to be okay with hearing potentially insensitive comments about adoption? Umph. If there was a place to stick an eye-roll emoji, this would be it. People have a lot to say about adoption and sometimes, it would be better left unsaid. Ask any adoptive parent and adoptee what they’ve been asked or heard about adoption and you will find a host of various opinions about the subject. In some conversations or blunt statements, it is often best to just let it slide. This depends on the person saying it and the context of the conversation. With others, adoptive parents need to discern if it is right to confront, with the purpose of educating, the person about adoption. This is a learning curve that adoptive families process along the way. Adoption isn’t going to be simple or perfect all of the time, but there is a sacredness to adoption. It is unique and complex but also quite beautiful.

One last bonus question to ask yourself before you adopt: Are you ready to feel a love beyond anything you’ve felt before? If the answer is yes, then pick up that phone and take the first step on your journey to adoption!